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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Chong makes most of first start of season for UConn

This is certainly not what Saniya Chong had in mind for the early portion of her junior season.

Chong worked hard not only on her game but also in being a more vocal presence and well-rounded player. What she wasn't counting on was the IT Band Syndrome causing such discomfort in her knee that she would miss three games and play a total of 28 minutes in UConn's first six games in the month of December.

Chong finally got to make an impact with a huge 3-pointer late in a win over Maryland before going off for 13 points in 22 minutes in a win over Cincinnati. Then with Moriah Jefferson missing her first career game due to a hamstring injury, Chong played 29 minutes in her first start of the season in a 95-35 win over Tulsa.

"It was a big step," Chong said. "Because of my injury it was a little shaky here and there in the beginning. Me and Rosie (UConn athletic trainer Rosemary Ragle) have been working together really hard and we have been improving each and every day, just coming out here today and playing really hard.

"One day it can be totally fine, I can practice and the next day I probably can't do a warmup and probably can't even walk so it has been really frustrating. I have tried to keep positive, Rosie has been positive with me and working me. My teammates have been supporting me so as time as been going on."

Some of Chong's best basketball came in the third quarter as she had eight points and had a solid effort in more ways than just knocking down shots.

"I felt really excited knowing I had to step in and take Mo's place," Chong said. "She does everything on the court, her offense and her defense. I couldn't be her but I had to go out there, give it my all and contribute to the team.

"I had support from Mo talking to me. The defense was a little bit shaky in the first half so coming out in the second half Mo was talking to me and I did what I had to do."
Chong's uncertain status probably would have kept her from being a productive player in her first couple of seasons but UConn coach Geno Auriemma credits Chong's maturity for helping her get through what has been an emotionally trying first couple of months of her junior season.

"People would (ask) what is the biggest improvement Saniya has made since freshman year to today, I would almost say it is not even about basketball but she has grown up a lot and that is what is helping her become the type of player we saw in high school," Auriemma said.

"I am happy for her. It is not easy to come out and play when you haven't practiced a lot this year and you haven't played in a lot of game minutes so I am thrilled for her."

There were so many key contributors in the win over Tulsa. Morgan Tuck had 16 of her 18 points in the first half while freshmen Katie Lou Samuelson and Napheesa Collier scored in double figures in the same game for just the second time this season. Samuelson had 14 points, four rebounds and five assists while Collier had 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots. Collier now has 82 rebounds which is the most for a UConn freshman through 12 games since Tina Charles' 97 in the 2006-07 season.

Jefferson injured her hamstring in practice on Friday. She took part in most of the pregame drills but missed her first career game and saw her string of consecutive starts snapped at 90. Auriemma sounded optimistic that she could be back in the lineup when UConn plays at Houston on Friday.
"I am pretty positive that she is going to go on Friday unless I see something different (in Thursday's practice or Friday's shootaround)," Auriemma said.

Also, sophomore center Natalie Butler said her scheduled meeting with the UConn medical staff to check on her injured thumb went well. She will continue to wear a splint to protect the thumb she injured in the preseason.

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